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Citizens fill city hall for North House lease discussion

City Hall
City Hall

The Grand Marais City Council met Wednesday, September 26 and discussion continued on the city’s lease with the North House Folk School.

The city of Grand Marais owns the property on which the North House Folk School is located. The city leases the harbor side property to the school for approximately $4,000 annually.

North House’s current is lease for 25 years, of which 11 years remain. In 2017, North House approached the city to get an early extension of its lease, to either 50 or 99 years.

Discussion of a possible extension led council members to consider a change to the criteria used to gauge whether North House was fulfilling its side of the lease agreement. Councilors agreed that the lease should clearly outline what the city expects in community outreach programs.

The council asked North House to return to the September 26 council meeting with more information on what the city gains from programming directed at community members, such as programming for local school students and events.

Returning on the September 26 were North House Executive Director Greg Wright, board members Mike Prom and Mark Glasnapp. In addition, there the city council chamber was filled with citizens, many who spoke during the public comment period.

North House provided information in the council packet, listing things such as dedicated educational programs for 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes; the high school timber frame course; youth sail camp and deckhand programs; as well as a 25 percent tuition discount for Cook County residents.

North House also pointed to community projects such as the Rec Park timbered bridge and the shelters at the Rec. Park, stating that North House would be open to discussing other such projects to support the city and its residents.
In addition, North House said that it will continue to keep its waterfront campus open and welcoming to the public, adding that North House has conducted the day-to-day and annual maintenance of the folk school grounds, freeing the city’s maintenance department from those duties.

Carl “Pete” Gresczyk, a citizen running for a city council seat, led off the public comment period, stressing that he thinks North House is a great organization, which does a lot for the community. However, he asked the council to put a value on the city property currently occupied by the North House Folk School. He said that value is what should be used to determine what the lease payment should be for the school.

Several other citizens also spoke, with Fritz Sobanja noting that the low lease payment was intended to help the folk school as it was getting established. He suggested that be reevaluated.

Jim Vannet noted that the low monthly payment was terribly inadequate and offered to pay $400 a month to lease the waterfront property. He urged the council to reconsider the lease payment and to not agree to a 50- or 99-year lease. He said that would lock the city into a deal that may not be sustainable.

Barb LaVigne, co-owner of the Angry Trout Restaurant, near the North House campus, said North House has brought great economic benefit to the community, bringing visitors to town in February, March and November, when business is usually slow.
LaVigne also suggested taking the approximately $30,000 or $40,000 that could be collected in taxes on the property and dividing it amongst property owners, to see what the true impact is to taxpayers.

Dave Williams, owner of Bear Track Outfitters, said the city and North House Folk School keep saying the folk school is helping local businesses. He said in his case, it caused him to lose business as the instructor/guides he had worked with went to work at the school. He said not all businesses—or tax payers—see benefits from North House.

The day after the meeting, WTIP’s Rhonda Silence sat down with Mayor Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux to talk about the North House lease, as well as the ordinance on first floor lodging in downtown Grand Marais, the city-county agreement on operation of the Cook County Community YMCA and more. 
 

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